2013 AL East Preview: Boston Red Sox Finish First
2013 AL East Preview
In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles staged an unexpected resurgence within the American League East, winning 93 games and winning the Wild Card play-in game against the Texas Rangers. The Orioles battled the New York Yankees through five games, ultimately losing the ALDS.
The Yankees went on the face the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. The series against the Tigers exposed many of the flaws that have plagued the Yankees over the last couple of seasons; too much dependence on the home run, an aging roster and proven high-priced stars with eroding skills. The Yankees regular season win total of 95 led the division, but against tougher pitching the Yankees struggled to manufacture runs.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a strong 90 win season built mostly around their sterling pitching staff, excellent manager Joe Maddon and some timely hits. Lefty David Price was the class of the league, winning the AL Cy Young award. The Rays missed the second Wild Card spot by three games behind the Rangers and Orioles.
The Toronto Blue Jays under former manager John Farrell went 73-89 while dealing with the multiple injuries to their pitching staff and star position players including Jose Bautista.
The Boston Red Sox were simply the S.S. Titanic last season. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It was a complete team effort. With the talent that the Red Sox had on their roster last season, it is simply not acceptable. The team was given a chance to reset the roster and the clubhouse during August with the mega-trade of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Looking at 2013, no one team has done anything to set themselves apart from the rest of the division. The AL East looks to be a very close race between all five teams and it looks like 10 wins might separate first place from last place. I would expect a tough race between all five teams in the division.
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5. Baltimore Orioles 80-82
The Orioles look like the team most likely to come back to Earth in 2013. Baltimore could actually field a better and deeper team than the team that went to the playoffs in 2012 but still fall off of the pace by 13 games.
Buck Showalter did a great job with the Orioles, but the team also had the benefit of having 29-9 record in one-run games while winning 16 extra-inning games in a row. The Orioles also somehow managed to win 93 games and do all of that with a run differential of only seven runs. Pretty tough to do.
The Orioles feature a solid rotation led by Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Charles Tillman. The bullpen is led by closer Jim Johnson, who was arguably the best closer in baseball last season.
The lineup features catcher Matt Wieters, budding star Adam Jones in center, J.J. Hardy at short, Chris Davis at first and Nick Markakis in right.
Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette was surprisingly inactive this winter, choosing to maintain the majority of the roster the team held in 2012.
Best Case Scenario: Machado becomes an All Star, Dylan Bundy joins the rotation in the second half and Brian Roberts stays healthy for an entire season.
Breakout Star for 2013: Manny Machado
For 2013, the Orioles look primed to take a step back, but they have a very bright future and great leadership with Showalter and Duquette.
4. New York Yankees 83-79
It is hard to pick against the Yankees. Even after winning 95 games in 2012 and coming within a series of going to the World Series last year, it was expected that New York would have a busy offseason.
But the Yankees practiced fiscal responsibility this winter, staying away from the high priced free agents and letting key players like Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher leave through free agency.
The reason that I am picking the Yankees for fourth in the AL East this season is simply due to injuries and age.
Prior injuries to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez combined with the spring training injuries to Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have completely changed the Yankees lineup this March. Jeter has slowly been recovering from injury this spring and is likely to start the season on the disabled list.
The New York rotation will be fronted by lefty CC Sabathia, who will be under a lot of pressure to keep the Yankees in it during the month of April. Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes give the Yankees a strong rotation if they can remain healthy.
Mariano Rivera returns to be the Yankees’ closer after missing most of last season due to injury supported by David Robertson.
Robinson Cano looks to be the only infield regular who will start this season for New York. Ichiro Suzuki was re-signed by the team in the offseason and Brett Gardner finally looks healthy after struggling through an injury plagued 2012 season. Kevin Youkilis shakes off three seasons of declining numbers to impact the lineup.
The Yankees will be tough, but it will be difficult for manager Joe Girardi to overcome the injuries, performance and age issues on the roster over the entire season.
Best Case Scenario for 2013: The Yankees stay in the hunt during the first month of the season until Teixeira and Granderson return from injury. Sabathia pitches at a Cy Young level for the season. Jeter and Rivera return from injury to regain their previous form. Gardner and Youkilis play at near All Star-levels.
Breakout Star for 2013: Brett Gardner
3. Tampa Bay Rays 86-76
The Rays are fortunate enough to have the best manager in the American League, Joe Maddon, and potentially the best general manager in Andrew Friedman. Nobody gets more out of their roster on a yearly basis; it is truly remarkable. The pitching pipeline that the team has developed is very impressive.
Just imagine what the Rays could do with another $30 million or so to round out the offense and keep their stars. The strong rotation will be headed by David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. The bullpen will have the very effective Fernando Rodney closing out the ninth inning.
Last year the Rays were able to win 90 games with a below-average offensive team. It was something that the team tried to address this winter by trading James Shields and Wade Davis for Kansas City Royals’ top prospect Wil Myers.
This year looks to be a little more of a transitional season, where the Rays will be in the hunt for most of the season as they develop their next wave of pitching and hope they find some offensive core players to go with Evan Longoria.
Best Case Scenario for 2013: Myers comes to the majors in mid-May and still wins Rookie of the Year; Moore becomes a carbon copy of Price. The Rays draw enough fans to allow the team to hold onto star Price.
Breakout Star for 2013: Wil Myers
2. Toronto Blue Jays 88-74
It’s tough being the favorite.
On paper, the Blue Jays have the most improved team in the division and they are currently the critics’ darling when it comes to picking the AL East. That’s what happens when you acquire explosive players like Jose Reyes.
The only problem that the Jays face is the high expectations that come with all of the bold moves the team made this winter. Trying to win the division when you are viewed as the favorite can be difficult.
The Jays rotation is vastly improved with additions R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle added to Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ. Former ace Rickey Romero has been sent all the way to Single-A ball to work on his confidence.
The Jays bullpen is where the concern comes in as they have no established closer to start the season, going with the untested Casey Janssen. Given the improvements in the other areas of the team, it seems like a risky move.
Offensively, the Jays revolve around Jose Bautista who missed the end of last season with left wrist surgery which limited him to only 92 games last season. If healthy, he is one of the best players in the American League. Toronto also has also added the explosive Reyes to be their everyday shortstop. Reyes immediately becomes the best SS in the American League and should have a huge impact on the Toronto lineup.
Toronto also features future stars Brett Lawrie at third once he recovers from a strained oblique and newcomers Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis to go with slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 home runs last season.
The Jays will battle the rest of the AL East while battling high expectations.
Best Case Scenario for 2013: Bautista returns completely healthy and all of the National League imports have a huge impact on the Jays roster, with no league adjustment or learning curve. Janssen slides into the closer’s role and doesn’t miss a beat.
Breakout Star for 2013: Brett Lawrie
1. Boston Red Sox 89-73
Where to begin? Things couldn’t get worse in 2013.
Actually, I think the Boston Red Sox will rebound in a very serious manner in 2013. The Red Sox were one of the worst teams in the American League last season while fielding a far more talented team then they displayed.
New manager, new season, different results. John Farrell has already run his camp much differently than Bobby Valentine and the results have been much better.
The Red Sox pitching staff, led by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, looks far different than the group that finished last season. Looking around the division, the Red Sox could have the best rotation and the deepest bullpen led by Joel Hanrahan.
Offensively, the Red Sox will have to weather the early season injuries to David Ortiz and Stephen Drew in order to keep the team in contention. Fortunately, the Boston lineup looks to have some pieces that can do that including Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks. Newcomer Jackie Bradley Jr. figures to have a huge impact on the Red Sox, whether that starts at the beginning of the season or a month or two in.
Defensively, the Red Sox look a little better than last season and could feature much better outfield and shortstop play, something that will definitely aid the pitching staff. Boston also features an improving farm system, something that might allow the team to strike for a key piece during the season.
Given how much went wrong last season and the Triple-A lineup that the team fielded the last two months of the season, it is not hard to see the Red Sox improving 20 games this season, especially after the similar improvement of the Orioles last season.
Best Case Scenario for 2013: Lester and Buchholz resemble their 2010-forms under Farrell and the rotation gives the team quality innings. The bullpen becomes one of the best in baseball. The offense provides enough runs and Oritz remains healthy for most of the season. Bradley Jr. is in the ROY hunt this year.
Breakout Star for 2013: Will Middlebrooks